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Salk: As Mariners decide if their window is opening, they must remember the goal

The Mariners will have a decision to make with Mitch Haniger around the trade deadline. (Getty)

Winning games is the most important thing. We all know that. Except that it isn’t.

It isn’t the goal. At least not the ultimate one. Neither is getting to the postseason. They are important and necessary components to achieving the goal. But they are not, in and of themselves, the goal.

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The goal is to win a championship. It is, in fact, the guiding light of all professional sports teams. And the Mariners have taken the first steps to creating a sustainable window of opportunity to win a World Series.

But when does that window open and how hard should they push on it?

In the last week, we have seen and heard some contrary answers.

On last week’s Jerry Dipoto Show on 710 ESPN Seattle, the Mariners’ general manager made it sound like there was a good chance he was listening to offers on Mitch Haniger.

“There’s a path that leads to Mitch being a part of what we do long-term,” Dipoto said. “But as we enter the trade deadline period… we’ll stay open to what the possibilities are and make the best judgment we can make at a given time. But we see no reason to move Mitch.”

He also addressed the possibility of a Haniger extension, though my ears heard a very discouraging picture.

“We are open to doing things like that,” Dipoto said of an extension. “And that has to be a marriage on both sides.”

He was non-committal, as you would expect of anyone in his position, but my reading of the tea leaves pointed more to a trade than an extension.

We’ll come back to how they should handle this situation in a moment, but let’s first agree that trading Haniger for prospects would be a sign that the Mariners’ window isn’t quite open for business.

Later that same night, the Mariners found themselves tied with the Rays in the ninth inning. Young Taylor Trammell was up with one out and men on second and third – a chance to win the game without even needing to get a hit. Kyle Seager was on the bench, available to pinch hit.

If winning games is the goal, you make the easy choice and pinch hit Seager. That gives you the best chance to win that game. But if long-term development of a young player and potential core member is the priority, then giving him a chance to be a hero sure seems like the best call.

You know what happened. Manager Scott Servais had Seager hit for Trammell and delivered the victory. He was mobbed by his teammates and the team started a five-game win streak.

I’m not here to criticize that decision – certainly not after it worked. But how do we interpret it? It sure seems indicative of a team that is ready to open that window and start competing.

Well, we have some mixed messages, and I don’t think it’s indicative of some divide between the manager and the GM. I think they are just at a mesh point for this rebuild, almost like brackish water. They are figuring out how to transition from full-time development mode to all-in and going for it.

And that brings us back to Haniger. Dipoto has been the master of the non-traditional trade. He has eschewed your typical veteran-for-prospects deal and found ways to creatively exchange talent. He may very well trade Haniger, but I can’t imagine it will be for unproven prospects.

If the Mariners continues to play .500 ball, it would be hard for them to simply sell off veteran pieces for prospects. It’s not that the fans would revolt (although they could be mad). It’s that the idea of building a “Mariners Culture” for the players would take an enormous hit. The huge strides they’ve taken this year to embrace their young leaders could be undermined by a belief that the team is going to perpetually rebuild and not get into “win-now” mode. In short, the players would want their efforts rewarded and matched by the front office.

Dipoto is about to walk a fine line – and without a contract in place beyond this year. He can best navigate his immediate future by remembering that the Mariners’ ultimate goal is to win a World Series and to act accordingly.

For more on the big questions the Mariners face, listen to the full discussion from the latest Brock and Salk Podcast.

Follow Mike Salk on Twitter.

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